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GUEST OF HONOR: Veterans museum pays tribute to efforts of French native

News Courier - 8/29/2017

Aug. 29--Jerry Barksdale had to tell Madame Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia a little white lie prior to her arrival at the Alabama Veterans Museum in Athens Monday morning.

The retired attorney, author and military historian told Brescia there was a large tour group at museum. The fib disguised the fact the cars in the parking lot -- and the more than three-dozen people inside -- were there to honor her.

That fact became obvious when she and Barksdale were greeted in the lobby by a welcome committee, including Mayor Ronnie Marks and Sheriff Mike Blakely. Realizing the reception was for her, Brescia burst into tears.

Brescia, of Raddon, France, has for years been paying tribute to the sacrifices of American soldiers in her home country by adopting graves. She's affiliated with two groups -- U.S. Memory Grand Est France and the American OverseasMemorial Day Association -- and is responsible for the adoption of 1,700 American soldiers' graves.

She has also helped provide funds to bring relatives of 16 soldiers killed in France to her country to view the graves of their loved ones. Her connection to Athens came about after she helped erect a monument to Staff Sgt. Lymon H. Curvin, an Alabama native who served in the 3rd division of the 30th infantry regiment.

Curvin's grandson, Evan Thornton, is the former finance director for the city of Athens. When the monument to Curvin was dedicated, Brescia hosted members of Thornton's family who flew to France for the ceremony. This week, Thornton's family returned the favor as Brescia toured Alabama.

"I'm quite impressed with the patriotism of the South in general and the way you take care of your veterans," Brescia said. "You are very appreciative of the veterans of all wars."

She'll be in America for a few weeks and will be the guest speaker at the 3rd infantry reunion in San Antonio, Texas, in late September.

Honoring the dead

During World War II, Brescia's father was interred in a German labor camp and her mother had gone back to live with her parents. France was in ruins, but the Americans had a camp near where her grandmother lived.

"The only thing my grandmother and mother could do was wash the clothes of the American G.I.'s," Brescia said. "They would come to the house and bring food."

After Brescia was born and started school, her family made her learn English. That would help her later in life as she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the U.S.

In 2012, Brescia moved from Paris to the French country, and heard about a large cemetery of American soldiers. After speaking with the superintendent of the cemetery, she adopted two graves. It was soon after that she became a member of the American OverseasMemorial Day Association. She also became the caretaker of 20 graves of American soldiers.

She reached out to the local newspaper in an effort to find out if there were others who may want to help care for the graves. An article ran in the paper Sunday morning, and by Sunday afternoon, she was already receiving phone calls from people wanting to help.

"By March 2014, we had so many members, we decided to create a real association," she said.

That association, U.S. Memory Grand Est France, decorates the graves of soldiers each Memorial Day. As president of the group, Brescia has gotten schools on board with the cause.

Many of the older volunteers recall the generosity of the American soldiers, Brescia said. Many remember soldiers stationed near the German border providing bread, chocolate or chewing gum to the children.

As for Brescia, she marvels at the struggles of the soldiers who fought during the fall of 1944. She said while the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy receive more attention, those who opened up the door to Germany should also be recognized.

"I owe the world to the American people," she said. "(France) owes a debt that can never be repaid. ... I love my boys."


(c)2017 The News Courier (Athens, Ala.)

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